I just got back from our site visit in Gostivar. A site visit is our chance to meet our counterpart in the organization we'll be working in, see the city, and confirm our apartment site, so it is much anticipated by all the trainees. Three of us went to Gostivar, which is a gorgeous town nestled at the end of a mountain valley. Huge mountains rise up from the edges of town, which of course fills me with excitement - I can hardly wait to get out there and hike. My counterpart is a gem - very sweet. He works for the regional sheepbreeders association where I'll be based, and I spent 3 days meeting all kinds of people. We visited a cheese factory, extension office (much like extension offices in the States), the local municipal government, a microfinancing NGO and a major sheep farm. We also went to a 3 hour meeting, conducted both in Albanian and Macedonian, that is identifying an infrastructure project to do. I felt like I was already getting primed for the job he wants me working on with him, which is creating an overarching association that unites all primary producers with processors and technical experts to facilitate more efficient and competitive farm to market operations. We also had delicious pizza at his cousin's pizza restaurant, saw another cousin's produce store, and I met his other cousin who works in a business related NGO. That's typical of Albanian and Macedonian culture. It's hard for them to understand what we're doing here so far from our families. They trace them back for generations and seem to be related to everyone in town either directly or through marriage. But for me it's great - it means I have instant connections in Gostivar. My apartment is very nice - I have a living room, small dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom with a small washing machine. Kacy is moving into the West Village in NY, and I bet my apartment is as big as hers! BTW, a little motherly pride, we just received word she passed the New York bar - congrats, my sweetie! I took treats into class today to celebrate.
South of Gostivar is the major national park in Macedonia, which I've heard is lovely. The sheep graze in mountain pastures in the summer, and I've been promised that I will be taken up there to visit. The family at the farm we visited were lovely - we had a good visit and were served the most delicious soft sheep cheese ever. It was four months old and had been made by the owner of the farm. They milk 200 sheep in the summer up in those mountain pastures - all, of course, by hand. I'd love to see the operation. I still can't quite believe this is what I'll be doing - seems like a dream. I was also given a huge wheel of hard sheep cheese at the cheese factory - tangy and delicious. My co-volunteers call me mother cheese!
Enough for now, friends. I'll write more and include pictures of Gostivar after I move there - I'll have internet access at my house. I had to move to Macedonia to get good internet access - Marlow just had dial-up. Hope everyone is well and thriving!